'Violent faith'

Author explores religious fundamentalism, motivations

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¤ David Willis, library director at Colorado Mountain College, will facilitate a discussion about Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" as part of the Alpine Enrichment Program¤ 7 p.m. Wednesday¤ Room 300, Bogue Hall at CMC¤ Free

— Jon Krakauer's books usually focus on outdoor adventures gone awry. In "Into Thin Air," he wrote about the growing number of inexperienced people attempting to climb Mount Everest. In "Into the Wild," the son of a well-off family abandoned everything for Alaska, where he died trying to survive in the wilderness.

In comparison, his book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" seems like a departure, but it's not. Like his other books, Krakauer spends his pages examining the motivations of the people he writes about.

"Under the Banner of Heaven" is the story of modern-day Mormon fundamentalists who have broken from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like fundamentalists of all religions, the Mormons in Krakauer's book believed they were returning to the early days of the church before it was watered down. In their minds, they represented the true church.

David Willis, director of the Colorado Mountain College library, will facilitate a discussion about the book Wednesday as part of the continuing Alpine Enrichment Program.

Willis read the book when it was released two years ago. The book led him to read more about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the history of the Mormon faith.

"It really appealed to me from an intellectual standpoint," Willis said. "It never occurred to me that the Latter-day Saints are the only American, homegrown religion, and it's one of the fastest growing religions worldwide.

"Also, I didn't know the extent which they were persecuted and the larger history of the Book of Mormon. The only exposure I had was from other kids growing up who were Mormon."

Willis since has re-read "Under the Banner of Heaven."

"The first time, I was struck with disbelief at the violence," he said. "The second time, it was less shock and awe and more curiosity about the Lafferty brothers, the Prophet Onias and the guy who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. I wondered what the factors were that made them break from the church, and not just the religious reasons, but the other reasons like their militia-type hate of our government."

Willis plans to discuss the book, offer some historical background about the Mormon religion and talk about the Mormon church's reaction to "Under the Banner of Heaven" after it was released. After a brief talk, he will open the floor to discussion.

Willis plans to be objective and wants to keep the evening from devolving into a Mormon-bashing session.

"I hope that our talk leads to larger religious questions that aren't just about the LDS church," Willis said. "Like, does religious fervor do more bad than good or more good than bad?"

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